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    Wayne Gray
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Answer - 1. The Answer

This story was sort of self-inspired in a round-about way. I wrote a poem titled "The Answer." Though that poem was inspired by a friend of mine (thank you tim!) who challenged me to write a 10/10 syllable poem. Interestingly, while the story is through Shawn's eyes the poem is from Ian's perspective. You can find the poem at the end of the story if you're interested.

The Answer

Daylight struggled to break through the mid-morning fog, but it had been enough to wake Shawn. He smiled against his chosen nightly partner’s warm neck. “Good morning.” He wriggled his pelvis, pressing into the shapely ass that had already performed so admirably the night before.

The man patted Shawn’s hip. “Good morning, Shawn.”

Rolling him onto his back, Shawn kissed him while reaching for his lube and a condom.

Shawn worked a slippery finger inside and the guy grunted. “Ah, wait.”

Irritation made Shawn sigh. “For what?”

Those green eyes Shawn had first noticed from behind the bar gazed up at him. “I already broke my rule once, but I don’t usually do this on the first date.” He wet his lips. “I thought we could go for breakfast or something?”

Shawn laughed. Pulling out his finger, he sat back on his haunches. “Sorry. I don’t date, that’s not what this is.” He made a show of opening the condom, maintaining eye-contact the whole time. “So, no. I don’t want breakfast.” He rolled the condom over his cock, then lifted and pulled until his turgid member was right where he wanted.

The fellow laughed a little uncomfortably. “Really?” He shook his head once. “This is just a fuck, then?”

“Bingo.” Shawn inched forward until the head of his dick was only a moment from entering. “You’re still hard. I know you want it.” He shrugged. “But if this is all too torrid for you, I’ll let you up, and you can go.”

Twenty minutes later, Shawn sauntered naked into the living room as his newly-dressed, freshly-fucked guest opened the door.

The man looked over his shoulder. “Well, guess I’ll see you later.”

Shawn nodded. “Yup. I'll be behind the bar.”

“Right.” His guest stepped outside and shut the door behind him.

Shawn scratched his sticky pubes, then stretched. Walking into the bathroom, he started the water.

“God. This is gonna eat at me until I remember.” Shawn got under the warm stream, his skin prickling with goosebumps as it sucked up the heat.

Though not all that important, the puzzle made for a pleasant distraction. “What the fuck was his name again?”

 

"Mmm." The last of Shawn's eggs benedict disappeared as Ian smirked across the table. Shawn snorted and wiped his mouth. "Oh, so sorry I'm audibly enjoying my meal, mister dignified."

"You're really not." Sipping his mimosa, Ian still somehow managed to retain his judgmental smile. "Mm. Sorry, that is. However, I will affirm the assertion that I remain dignified."

Rolling his eyes, Shawn gently kicked Ian under the table. The reward of a little surprised yelp and the narrowing of Ian's eyes made the minor bit of assault particularly satisfying. He leaned forward. "You just like to prove how much smarter you are than everybody else with that vocabulary of yours."

Ian inhaled as if to reply, then cocked his head and that damnable smirk returned. "I see you inherited your grandfather's head of hair."

Flushing with the heat of embarrassment, Shawn sat back, away from his jerk of a best friend. "Fuck you, man." He ran a hand through his blond hair. "I'm not going bald, you dick."

“Ah, I’m sorry.” Ian’s smile slipped. Pushing aside the remnants of his brunch, he sighed and looked around at the planters lining the small patio area of the restaurant. “I love what they’ve done; it’s so pretty out here.”

Since Ian hadn’t commented further about his hair, that meant he was trying to change the subject. Which further meant that Ian really thought he was going bald. “I’m only twenty-four. I’m not balding.” Shawn reached across the table, snagging Ian’s half-filled mimosa. “Guys won’t be into a bald bartender, so I’d better not be.”

Ian made a face of disapproval as Shawn downed his drink. “Anybody who’s that worried about hair really isn’t worth knowing.”

Laughing, Shawn eyed his naive friend and set the fluted glass on the table. “Really? How many bald men have you taken to bed?”

It was Shawn's turn to smirk as Ian squirmed. Bingo.

"Well, none." Ian shrugged. "That's not the reason, though. I find fit, bald guys pretty attractive. I've just never had the opportunity with one." Ian frowned. "Wipe that shitty grin off your face; you've not proven anything."

"That's yet to be seen. Speaking of which, if I shaved my head I'd have a shot with you?" Shawn raked his flip-flopped foot gently down Ian's leg.

"I've already told you," Ian scooted just out of reach of Shawn's lecherous foot, "I'm not interested. We're friends, and that'd fuck things up."

"Nah, it wouldn't." A romp with Ian had run on repeat in Shawn's mind for years, and his penis shifted as he spoke. "What makes you think things would change?"

"Let's see." Ian looked around the outdoor patio space. There were five tables, three had patrons, and Ian motioned subtly at a pair of young guys eating together. "Small town. I know for a fact one of those guys is gay. Andrew's the guy in the striped shirt. I'm betting you've had one or both of them."

Of course they were gay. Shawn had slept with them at different times in the past. "Yeah, both."

Ian continued, "Thought so. Take either one. I bet once you did bed them you never talked to them again."

Shawn made to reply when Ian wiped his mouth. "Hang on."

Standing, Ian walked over to their table. Stripes stood up and hugged Ian in greeting.

What's he trying to prove?

Ian was introduced to Stripes' denim-shirted friend, and they shook hands. Ian smiled, said something, then gently patted Stripes' back.

They've fucked. The weird sensation that came with the realization caused Shawn to frown.

After a few exchanged words, Ian grinned. "You know it. I'll be there." His voice carried across the patio as he stepped away from the table. "Thanks for the invitation."

Ian returned to their table, sighed in satisfaction, and folded his hands in front of him on the tabletop. The expectant expression on his face was irritating.

"Fine. You're friendly with your tricks."

"Yes, but you are not." Ian sipped his water and motioned at the server, then his eyes returned to Shawn. "Despite your ignoble ways, I remain friends with you—and I want to continue to do so."

Their server appeared to collect plates and to drop off the check.

Shawn reached for his wallet. "Since I'm such an imposition for your moral code of conduct, I'll pay," he said in jest.

That elicited a smile. "Well, honestly, that's appreciated." Ian stood, shouldering into his light jacket. "I'm still not earning enough with my column work to do much other than pay the bills."

"No problem." Shawn pulled out cash and dropped it next to the tab. The pair walked past the table with Stripes and his breakfast date.

"See you, Ian!" Stripes grinned at Ian, then pointedly avoided acknowledging Shawn at all. Denim smiled too, his mouth busy with a bite of food, though he waved—again at Ian.

"See you guys. Nice to meet you, Erik!" Ian replied.

Shawn hurried out of the place with Ian in tow. Out on the sidewalk in front, Shawn shot a dark glance at Ian. "Well, I'm glad you guys are all chummy. You gonna let them make a sandwich out of you?"

Ian shrugged. "Maybe? It's not important."

"Oh yeah." Shawn waved a hand as they walked down the sidewalk. "Sex is so boring. Never a motivator for mister Ian."

Sighing, Ian looked sideways at him. "I didn't say that. I'm saying sex isn't the only reason I hang out with people." The bastard looked him up and down. "Obviously."

Despite the dig, Shawn laughed. "Whatever, man!" He pointed. "Your loss!" I'd wreck you in the sack, you smug shit.

They stopped at the bike rack and each unlocked their rides. Blessed with a mellow, sunny day, Shawn had jumped at the chance to take the bicycle. Besides, biking meant skipping cardio at the gym. "You're just mad because," Shawn happily swung his hips from side to side as he clipped on his helmet, "I'm gonna get laid tonight." His words ended in a sing-song taunt.

Ian rolled his eyes and put a lean leg over the center bar of his bike. "Already got one on the hook, eh?"

"Nope." Shawn got on his bicycle too. "But I'm working the bar, and that's a sure bet."

Frowning, Ian shook his head as he donned his helmet. "Leave it to you—a gay dude working at a straight bar in a small town—to always get laid."

"Well, it's not very straight," Shawn admitted. "The Answer is pretty damn mixed."

"Still." Ian turned his bike around. "Maybe I'll come by later, get a shot with ya."

Grinning, Shawn nodded. "Yeah, that'd be great." He stood on the pedals and pumped them, propelling himself down the sunny, tree-lined street away from his friend. "See you tonight!"

↤↕↦

Time marches on, and frankly, she is an unfair bitch. Sighing unhappily, Shawn rubbed the exposed skin on his head where his hairline had retreated. Now thirty-three years old, he was undeniably going bald.

Shawn finished with most of the morning rituals in the bathroom of his home, then moved to the closet. He dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, then examined his growing collection of headgear. Selecting a battered, masculine ballcap made of faded denim, he pulled it on.

He slung his gym bag over a shoulder. On his way out, he stopped in the living room in front of the mirror hanging over the gas-insert fireplace. He turned his head this way and that. Satisfied that he looked like a dude who simply preferred to wear a cap, Shawn left.

Shawn welcomed his workout routine. That time had become precious, in that he got to live in the moment, worry less about the future. Though even that had begun to change.

Gotta look at the numbers when I get to the bar. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he turned into the parking lot outside of the gym. The piece of shit accountant he'd hired two months ago had turned out to be, well, a piece of shit. That meant Shawn now kept the books himself. It had turned out to be far more of an endeavor than he ever could have imagined, and he struggled with managing the bar and keeping tabs on expenses. Thank God Ian gave me that Quickbooks program.

Regret was atypical for him, yet there were days when the emotion reared its head. Being just a bartender had been oh so much simpler.

"Fuck this. Think about it when you have to—not before." With a growl at himself, Shawn parked and headed to the glass doors.

He strode into the gym, stopping at the front desk.

"Hey, Shawn." Dale, the somewhat confused yet handsome guy behind the counter, almost smiled at him.

"Hi, Dale." Shawn handed over his membership card, which Dale scanned into their guest tracker system.

Shawn took his card when Dale finished. "Thanks." He turned to head to the locker room.

"Hey." Dale's uncertain voice brought Shawn's head around. Wetting his lips, Dale covered his wide, gold wedding band with his other hand. "So … you working the bar tonight?"

"That's every night now. I own it. Don't really get nights off anymore."

"Oh. Right." Dale fidgeted. "Well, maybe I'll come by after work."

"Sure." He gave the nervous man a smile. "I'm sure I'll have time to," Shawn leaned over the counter, "talk."

Dale's neck flushed red and his Adam's apple bobbed. "Cool. Yeah, it'd be good to, ah, to chat."

"Chatting with you is always fun." Shawn turned and threw up a hand as he walked away. "See ya tonight."

Gym therapy was intense, long, and necessary. Finished with a grueling lower body and cardio session, Shawn entered the locker room to grab his bag.

He didn’t linger. Opening his locker, he pulled out his bag and put it over a shoulder. He then navigated past half-dressed men on the way out.

As Shawn walked by the front desk, Dale nodded his way. Shawn gave him a little salute. Still sweaty and in dire need of a shower, he left the gym.

Out in the parking lot, he unlocked his vehicle. “Should just shower in the gym.” Shawn groused at himself, knowing he wouldn’t do it. With a sigh, he got in his truck, started it, and drove home.

A couple of hours later saw Shawn entering his bar. The spot was old, one of the oldest in the town, and had a storied history of debauchery. That suited him perfectly.

"Hey, boss!" Althea waved from behind the counter. It was only just past one p.m. on a Tuesday, but there was a cadre of regulars there already.

"Heya, 'Thea. How's my job treating you today?" Shawn patted a couple of guys he recognized on their backs as he walked past and they bobbed their heads in greeting.

His bartender put her fists on her hips and cocked her head. "Hey, now. How long do I gotta work here for it to be my job?"

Laughing, Shawn automatically eyed the stock in the racks, noting what needed replenishing. "I'll have to think about that one." He gave her a wink. "I'll be in the back. If a guy named Dale comes in, send 'im to me."

"Will do. Oh, that reminds me, Ian came by."

Shawn stopped. "Really?" He'd not seen his best friend in almost a week. Ian had been busy with some sort of class he'd started taking at The College of the Redwoods, the local community college in town. "Did he say he'd be back?"

"Yeah." Althea shifted the string of new LED lights hanging behind the otherwise mostly-dark bar. "He said he'd be back later, after his class."

"Okay. Thanks, 'Thea."

Retreating into the back, Shawn sat at an old, scarred wooden desk. He sighed as he started the computer. He might as well get the worst part of the day done and over.

Quickbooks loaded and Shawn sighed again. "God, I hate this shit." With a dejected set to his shoulders, he began making sure his four employees would be paid, his suppliers' contracts funded, and that he was accounting correctly for taxes and a myriad of other financial bullshit required of a business owner.

Three agonizing hours passed as Shawn slowly worked through the long list of tasks he had to accomplish. He had almost finished when 'Thea's voice came over the speaker on his desk phone. "Hey. Your dude, Dale, is here."

Shawn grinned. "Good, send him back."

He stood up just as the well-built, dark-haired man entered his office. "Hey." Nervously wetting his lips, Dale closed the door behind him.

Stepping around the desk, Shawn fearlessly entered Dale's space, pressing the man against the door with his body. "Hey, Dale." Dale was already breathing hard, and Shawn ran a hand down his front to grip his groin.

"Ah." Dale awkwardly put his hands on Shawn's waist as Shawn rubbed his erection through his jeans. "I … I don't have long."

"It never takes long." Shawn unbuttoned Dale's pants. Soon he had the closeted man bent over his desk, hammering like a piston and stroking him in time to his pelvis.

Dale gripped Shawn's hip. "Fuck. Ungh." His shaky voice was as quiet as he could manage.

Shawn grinned as Dale unloaded on the desk. "Mmm. You like this cock, don't you? Don't get this at home, huh?" Throwing his head back, Shawn groaned and plunged deep into the man under him. He held there as his body rhythmically shot into the condom.

Panting, Shawn finished with a grin and pulled out. Dale took a moment to recover, his perfect ass exposed over the desk, then he straightened.

"Nice visit." Shawn pulled off the condom and tossed it into the wastebasket. He checked the ballcap he still wore, then bent to pull up his underwear and pants. "Anytime you wanna chat, just come on by."

Dale nodded, hurriedly putting himself together. "Yeah. See you."

He left the office. Not wanting to give the bar a show, Shawn waited a few minutes for his dick to soften to a less embarrassing lump in his pants, then headed into his slowly filling establishment.

"Well, that didn't take long." Ian's tone and the smirk on his face greeted Shawn from the end of the bar. "I watched your rather flustered ... associate enter and leave. I wondered how long your 'meeting' would take."

Laughing, Shawn slid onto the stool beside his buddy. "Yeah, he was in a rush, and I aim to please."

Ian's expression dissolved into contemplation. "I've seen this guy leaving here a few times now." He cocked an eyebrow as he sipped his signature mocktail—a tonic with lime and cherries. He stirred the drink with a finger. "This gonna be a thing for you?"

Shawn leaned back. "A 'thing'? Ah, no. The dude is closeted, married. It's perfect. No strings. He comes by, gets what he needs, and I let off some steam. It's just convenient."

"Ah." Ian looked down at his drink. "Of course."

"What? You jealous?" Shawn leaned playfully into him. "I bet you'd love a turn over the desk."

"I really wouldn't." Ian's tone and face expressed a sureness that unexpectedly stung.

"Well, you're … you're missing out."

They sat in awkward silence. Jeez, what's his problem? Shawn motioned at Althea. "A couple of drinks—our regular." His bartender nodded. She dropped a large cube of ice each into a pair of tumblers, then poured Maker's 46, Shawn's favorite whiskey. She delivered them to the guys.

Ian stared at the alcohol. "So, how's the program working? Quickbooks?"

"The program is great, though the user could use some upgrading," Shawn quipped as he picked up his glass. "Seriously, thanks for giving it to me. It helps." Taking a sip, he sighed as the warmth of the amber liquid heated his throat. "I'd not be able to do this without it."

A real smile bloomed on Ian's face, and he, too, lifted his glass. "I'm glad it helps." Ian took a dainty drink, grimaced, and shook his head. "Whew."

"Why do you drink it if you don't like it?" Shawn laughed and took another slug of his own beverage.

The look from Ian was something Shawn had never seen from him. Then, just as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone, and Shawn struggled to assign an emotion to the expression that lingered only in his memory.

Disappointment? Surprise?

"I drink it because it's free." Ian's smile didn't reach his eyes. He shrugged. "Anyway, if you need help with the program, I can do that. Actually, my classes are over, so I could do some bookkeeping if you needed."

"What? Your schedule allows for that?"

Ian considered his glass. "Yeah."

"Hell, man. Can you really do the books?"

"I already am for a couple of other places."

That was news to Shawn. "Well, okay." Wheels were turning now. "So, you're serious? It won't get in the way of your column work?"

"Oh." Ian swallowed. "Ah, I gave that up. Wasn't paying the bills, so I went to school for some financial classes." This time, he took a real drink of the whiskey.

Shawn blinked. "Really? But, didn't you buy your place? I thought you were doing all right?" He put an arm over Ian's shoulders. "Dude, you should have come to me. If you're having trouble, you come to me."

That trademark smirk reappeared. "I thought I just did."

"Smartass." With a snicker, Shawn gripped his buddy. "Well, I'm sorry about the newspaper stuff. I know that was your dream."

Shrugging, Ian swirled his glass. "It's really hard for papers with the internet. Some dreams have to die so others have a chance."

"Yeah. I guess so." Shawn sighed. "Well, in that case, yes—if you can and want to do the books for the bar, let's talk about compensation and shit." His stress decreased just thinking about not having to do the financials himself.

Ian nodded and picked up his whiskey. "Sounds good." He held out the glass. "To new partnerships."

Shawn grinned. "Yeah." He gently tapped his glass to Ian's. "To new partnerships!"

As it went down, the liquor burned in a satisfying blend of pleasure and pain.

↤↕↦

At some point, a man simply has to accept how things are. Running the razor over his head, Shawn cut off the wispy remnants of what had been his thick, blond hair. He knocked the head of the razor under the water in his bathroom sink, then ran a hand over the slick skin of his skull.

While he was now bald, his beard was coming in strong. A thick but short and well-trimmed beard graced his face. Luckily, it was a light brown color so the few gray bastards spouting faded into the background hair.

"Guess I've got the daddy thing going for me." Shawn sighed at his reflection. "Well, at least Dale likes it."

He finished up in the bathroom, then snagged his bag. The one thing he could still control was on the agenda, and he looked forward to his time in the gym.

Shawn got to the gym, immediately laying a big smile on Dale. "Hey!"

Dale grinned back. "Hey, man." As he checked Shawn into the gym, Dale waggled his eyebrows. "So. You, me. Your place? My kids are at the ex's, so I'm free tonight."

The last ten years had seen Dale's life utterly change. The divorce had been the best thing he could have done, and coming out to himself had worked wonders for his confidence and mental health.

"Yeah, that sounds great." Shawn hesitated. "Ah. So, did you wanna stay over?"

Freezing in place, Dale cocked his head. "Really?" His eyes flicked to another member as she approached the desk. "Hang on."

Pretending interest in a flyer on the desk while Dale checked in the guest, Shawn fought an uneasy sensation in his belly and impatience at how long the process took. Finally, the woman walked away.

"Okay," Dale began, his hands out. "I thought … well, maybe I misunderstood."

"What?" Shawn swallowed. "Misunderstood what?"

"Well, I mean these hook-ups have been a lot of fun, but you were pretty clear. That's all you wanted. To help me stick with that, I don't stay over." Dale tried a smile on him. "Besides, I have a date tomorrow anyway. Cute, young customer here. Hot number, you'd like him."

Well, fuck him. Who needs him? "Oh, cool. My bad." Shawn shuffled his feet. "Uh, you know … I can't hang out tonight. I forgot, Ian can't cover the bar. So, I'll have to go in."

Dale's expression spoke volumes—it said that he didn't believe Shawn. "Well, you do what you gotta do, man." He sighed. "I guess I'll see ya tomorrow for your workout."

"Yep, see ya."

Stalking through the gym, Shawn tossed his bag into a locker. Then he threw himself at his workout, trying to forget the feeling that he'd just lost something important.

 

"Why are you here?" Ian came into the main room of the bar from the back, and Althea guiltily watched from her place behind the counter.

Growling, Shawn shook his head. "Damn it, 'Thea. I told you not to call him."

She threw up her hands. "Well! He's my boss too, and he told me to let him know whenever you dropped by."

Shawn irritably took another drink of whiskey as Ian sat on the end stool next to him. Althea moved away to handle some customers, leaving the two alone.

Spearing Ian with a glare, Shawn said, "It's my bar. I'll come here if I want to."

"We're partners now, if you've not forgotten, so it's our bar. And that's not what I asked. I asked why you're here on what is supposed to be your day off." Ian put an arm around his shoulders and Shawn's neck stiffened under it. "Hey. What's going on with you?"

"Nothing." He glanced at Ian. His best friend expectantly looked back, patient brown eyes simply waiting. Shawn grimaced. "Ah. Fuck." Staring down into his iced whiskey, Shawn shook his head. "I just had this moment earlier today. This … this crazy idea that me and Dale could be something more." He closed his eyes. "No. I know better. Well, I do now."

After a long silence, Ian squeezed him. "Hey. It's okay to want something more." A remarkable amount of empathy and understanding permeated his tone. "You deserve more, you know."

"I don't think that's true. I realize now, that I'm exactly where I am now because I put myself here." Laughing bitterly, Shawn leaned into Ian.

"Yeah, but you're allowed to change."

It had been years since Shawn had gotten really emotional. The drink, Ian's warm body beside him, and the interaction with Dale had pushed him to his limit, and he tried to control it all. "Tell that to this fucked-up world I made."

Pulling Shawn close, Ian held him. And for the first time in almost a decade, Shawn cried.

 

"Look, you don't have to do this." It was a bit after noon the next day, and Shawn lay back on his couch, his phone to his ear. "I know you've gotta be tired after the shift at the bar last night, and I gotta work tonight anyhow. And I really am fine!"

"Hey, I'm offering to cook you dinner—and not bar food!" Ian laughed over the connection and Shawn smiled at the sound. "Just come over. Althea said she can handle the bar tonight—it's not the weekend, so it should be slow. If she needs us, she can call."

In truth, Shawn needed some social time with his friend. "Fine. What do I bring?"

"Bring wine."

"Wine, okay. Red or white?"

A few hours later, Shawn knocked on Ian's door while awkwardly holding his bottles of wine. The cute little cottage was set back from the street, with old fruit trees dotting the front yard. It gave the whole place an isolated, peaceful feeling.

Ian opened the door.

Whoa.

Ian wore black slacks, a button-up sky blue shirt, and a dark navy blue tie. Polished brown leather shoes and a belt completed his attire. Ian's dark eyes contrasted against his shirt, and it made them appear a warm, chocolate color. He looked great.

"Hey, Shawn." Ian smiled, though there was a hint of something there that Shawn couldn't place.

"Uh, hi!" Chuckling, Shawn followed Ian inside. "So, did I miss a memo or something? What's the deal with the clothes?" The savory smell of red meat and spices hit his nose, causing his mouth to water.

"There's no memo; I thought I'd dress up."

They entered the kitchen and dining area, and there was another surprise for Shawn. Long, unlit, cream-colored tapered candles in crystal holders graced the center of the table, while two perfect place-settings with folded cloth napkins awaited them.

Shawn stopped in his tracks to stare.

Ian gently took the two bottles of wine from him. "I'll take these to the kitchen. Have a seat."

Struggling to understand, Shawn did as he was told. He recovered some of his wits and cleared his throat. "Uh, did … do you need help in there?"

"Nope. Stay there."

Barely noticing the sounds of cookware sliding about in the kitchen, Shawn's brain spun. "Ian?"

"Yeah?" His friend delivered a side of steaming scalloped potatoes, then disappeared back around the half-wall between the dining area and kitchen.

"What's going on?"

"I'm serving our dinner?" Ian next brought broiled vegetables. They looked to have been drizzled in some sort of oil and some darker stuff. Maybe balsamic.

A weird flutter went through Shawn. Am I on a date? With Ian?

Ian returned with two perfect t-bones on a single plate. They smelled of coffee, smoked peppers, and their own meaty aroma. The charring on the fat looked delectable.

"Sorry. No salad." Ian put his hands on his hips as he looked over the food. "The store didn't have the lemon-poppyseed dressing I wanted, and I didn't have time to try and make my own, so we're stuck without."

What if we are? On a date? Shawn gulped. "That's … that's fine." Fuck. Calm down. His heart hammered against his sternum. No. Fucking stop it. Ian isn't interested in you and never has been. Why would he be?

Pulling out the chair across from Shawn, Ian sat. His eyes flicked up. "I hope you like it all."

Shawn opened his mouth to reply and his thoughts spilled from him. "What are you doing? Why …" He looked around at the impressive meal, and then finally back to Ian. "Why spend this effort on me?"

Ian stared at him. Finally, he leaned back in the chair. "You really don't know."

Shawn shook his head. "What? Tell me."

Slumping in his seat, Ian blinked in what Shawn had to assume was shock.

"Ian, what are …"

His friend stood, a look of determination on his face. "I never wanted to show this to you, but … but I think I have to."

Ian walked away from the table to his bedroom, leaving Shawn alone. What the fuck is happening?

It wasn't long before Ian returned. He held in his hand an old, folded piece of paper. It looked as if it had been handled repeatedly, read and reread. A little paper treasure. Ian gently set it in front of Shawn.

"Open it, Shawn."

Unsure what he would see, he did. The first thing he noticed was the letterhead was from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dear Mister Ian Peters,

We at the Chronicle are incredibly delighted to offer you a daily column in our paper. We have over one hundred and fifty thousand subscribers to our newsprint, while our online presence is growing all the while. Times are changing for our industry, and be assured we're changing with them—your talents will find a place with us here, be it in newsprint or on the web.

We'd be honored if you'd accept this offering. You'll find pay information attached. Please call us with your answer, and if you should you have any questions, or concerns. We hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you.

Danielle Sherman

Hiring Manager

S.F Chronicle

Reading it again, Shawn noticed the date at the top. "Wait." He turned, looking up at Ian where he still stood behind him. "Eleven years ago?" As Ian pulled out the chair beside him, Shawn looked back to the paper in his trembling hands. "But … a long time ago, you said … you said you had to give up the writing. The column work. It's … it's why you started the finance …" The realization hit him, so profound and crushing that it made Shawn gasp.

Ian quietly reached and stilled Shawn's quaking hand by laying his own over it. "Shawn." He pulled until Shawn's hand lay clasped in his own. He smiled at his shocked friend. "I learned the finance stuff for you. I stayed for you. I gave up the job at the paper, for you." Ian's gaze was unguarded, deep and consuming.

Panic burned through Shawn and he shot to his feet, startling Ian. "No!" Shawn's hands gripped his own smooth head. "No! Why?! You never … you were never interested! Why do this?"

Standing, Ian put his hands on Shawn's shoulders. "Hey. I've always been interested. But you weren't ready. Not … not for what I need from you. And I didn't want to fuck it up by jumping in too early."

Blinking, Shawn felt dizzy. It was good Ian was holding onto him. "But, I'm shit. Ian, I'm shit. You know I am! You gave up your dream. You waited twenty years? Oh, oh fuck. Oh, fuck."

"Hey, you're not shit. Calm down."

Shawn staggered. "Why?"

Ian now looked worried. "Shawn, hey, it's okay. Calm down, all right?"

Taking deep breaths, Shawn steadied somewhat on his feet. He blinked and freed tears that streaked down his face. "Why? I'm nothing. Why did you let me ruin your life?"

The most brilliant, wonderful smile lit Ian's face. "I'm in love with you. I have been almost from the start. You didn't ruin my life, Shawn." Ian rubbed a thumb across Shawn's cheek to wipe away a tear. "You were my choice. One that I have made over and over." Ian pulled him close and Shawn returned his embrace.

They stayed that way for a while, and slowly Shawn calmed. So much fell into place in those quiet minutes.

"Will you let me love you?" For twenty years, Ian had waited to whisper that reverent, wavering question in Shawn's ear. For twenty years, he had watched while Shawn had frolicked about before his eyes, ever-hopeful that this very moment would come.

Shawn responded with a whisper of his own. "Yes. I think you're the only one who can."

Ian leaned back so he could focus on him, his own eyes brimming with unshed tears. He smiled. "Probably."

Both men laughed. It was so good to laugh and to finally know where he belonged.

Ian sighed, then leaned in to kiss him.

Later that night, Shawn made love for the first time in his life.

 

Author's Note: This story was sort of self-inspired in a round-about way. I wrote a poem titled "The Answer." Though that poem was inspired by a friend of mine (thank you tim!) who challenged me to write a 10/10 syllable poem. Interestingly, while the story is through Shawn's eyes the poem is from Ian's perspective. Here it is if you're interested. Thank you for reading.

 

The Answer

There was a man who never shed a tear,
from love his heart was safely walled away.
"I cannot be hurt since I never fear,
the loss of something that's only for play."

It seemed so genius this secret he'd found,
this fundamental, oft unspoken truth.
I watched him joyfully frolic around,
still strong, handsome, in the picture of youth.

We aged a bit, as we are wont to do,
and things were starting to change for my friend.
His partners found for his nights became few,
I saw in his eyes the start of the end.

"Who will want me now that I've spent my time?"
We sat together as closest friends will.
"Who could desire me out of my prime?"
He struggled so hard to swallow this pill.

I sighed and wondered if he was ready.
I wondered if he could possibly see.
I reached for his hand, my voice unsteady,
"My friend, the answer has always been me."

Thank you so much for reading. This was a challenge in a number of ways. The point of view and strictly adhering to that single, limited perspective was tough. The reader knows only what Shawn does. So if he doesn't notice or care about something, then the reader isn't going to be informed either. It's a completely new way for me to write, and I rather enjoyed it. I hope you did too.

Copyright © 2020 Wayne Gray; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for reading The Answer. I hope you enjoyed it. Please, rate, recommend, and review the story if you'd like.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments



I am very unlike Shawn. I could never sleep around like he did. I may have had sex on a first date several times, but they were never just one night stands. As I grew older, I realized I needed to know the man before I could have sex with him. (But now the pendulum seems to have gotten stuck in that extreme.)

I guess I’m a little more like Ian, but I’ve never had a ‘Shawn.’
 

You certainly brought both Shawn and Ian to life!
;–)

Edited by droughtquake
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21 minutes ago, chris191070 said:

Awesome and amazing Wayne. You have managed to show 20 years is Shawn's life in a fantastic short story, that has the perfect happy ending.

Thanks, chris.

I'm glad you liked the story and the format. I think it works. I'm happy others feel the same way.

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19 minutes ago, pvtguy said:

Lovely!  Just lovely!  There is the enjoyment of reading and the depth of much more!  Thanks

Thanks, Tony.

I think what goes unsaid here is just as important as what is there. Those unspoken depths between the snapshots can be imagined, and hopefully people do think about it.

Thank you again. 🙂

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3 minutes ago, Mikiesboy said:

i still like it and you're welcome, Wayne.  xo

Inspiring one another is definitely a nice aspect to friendship. I mean, this is no Silverwolf, but I still like it. 😄

Thanks, tim. xo

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Just now, Wayne Gray said:

Inspiring one another is definitely a nice aspect to friendship. I mean, this is no Silverwolf, but I still like it. 😄

Thanks, tim. xo

Haha... true.  I enjoy our chats and collaborations. Hopefully we will start to get back to where we can write on our next story, soon.

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Wayne❣️❣️  
This was beautiful....perfect;  Both the story and the poem.  

“I see you inherited your grandfather's head of hair."  That line made me laugh, as for a while it  was believed baldness was inherited from your maternal grandfather, lol.

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19 minutes ago, Mikiesboy said:

Haha... true.  I enjoy our chats and collaborations. Hopefully we will start to get back to where we can write on our next story, soon.

We will. No doubt.

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3 minutes ago, FanLit said:

Wayne❣️❣️  
This was beautiful....perfect;  Both the story and the poem.  

“I see you inherited your grandfather's head of hair."  That line made me laugh, as for a while it  was believed baldness was inherited from your maternal grandfather, lol.

Hehe. Ian can be a bit of a prick when he wants to be. And nobody can get under our skin like someone who knows us well. Ian was the one person Shawn let close in any emotional way, and that's the trade.

Thanks for the comments. I'm happy you enjoyed it!

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34 minutes ago, Wayne Gray said:

Inspiring one another is definitely a nice aspect to friendship. I mean, this is no Silverwolf Trainwreck, but I still like it. 😄

There, I fixed it for you!
;–)

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24 minutes ago, FanLit said:

“I see you inherited your grandfather's head of hair."

My younger brother and especially my older nephew seem to have inherited my father’s younger brother’s early onset balding… but I think they all got it from their kids!
;–)

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Its amazing how u fit 20 years into 1 chapter. Loved the story. I'm kind of an Ian, but no way in hell would I ever want a man who's banged every man in town. Lol!

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12 minutes ago, jaysalmn said:

Its amazing how u fit 20 years into 1 chapter. Loved the story. I'm kind of an Ian, but no way in hell would I ever want a man who's banged every man in town. Lol!

Thanks, jaysalmn!

It really was both an exercise, and a fun story for me to write. I hope it felt natural to you as a reader, and not rushed. I wanted it to be just enough to know what is going on.

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45 minutes ago, Wayne Gray said:

Thanks, jaysalmn!

It really was both an exercise, and a fun story for me to write. I hope it felt natural to you as a reader, and not rushed. I wanted it to be just enough to know what is going on.

I don't think it felt rushed at all. I think it flowed really well.

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30 minutes ago, rickproehl said:

Wayne great story and just perfect as it is.
Nice work

Thank you, rick. It makes me happy to know you and others like it, so I appreciate the time you took to comment.

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